Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Crimes of the Heart
Stage Left Productions
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Mary Poppins, Radium Girls and The Rocky Horror Show


Sara Castillo, Amber Ryan, and Kathryn Katsikis
Photo by Rodney Rickard
Beth Henley won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Crimes of the Heart, which focuses on a trio of sisters who are all dealing with personal issues. With a gifted cast and clear direction, Stage Left Productions is presenting a solid production of this well-crafted dramedy.

The plot follows the three McGrath sisters over a single day in their small, rural hometown of Hazelhurst, Mississippi. It's oldest daughter Lenny's 30th birthday, but hardly anyone even remembers it's her special day since her youngest sister Babe has just been arrested for shooting her husband Zackery, claiming she didn't like his looks, and popular middle sister Meg is on her way back home from Hollywood where she's been flailing in her pursuit of a singing career. While past resentments and romances come into focus, the sisters also have to deal with the sad news that their elderly grandfather is in the hospital and probably won't be coming back home, along with the uncertainty of Babe's legal issues, while the memory of their mother's suicide (she hanged herself along with the family cat) is still present. As the trio feud and bicker they are also drawn closer when they realize that they all have experienced unhappiness and have suffered crimes of the heart that they have to come to terms with.

Henley has created three-dimensional characters and interesting plot elements. Looking at this 40-year-old play through a modern lens, it may seem a bit strange today knowing that this wacky, comical drama that focuses on a dysfunctional Southern family won the Pulitzer Prize, especially since none of Henley's other plays were as successful. However, you only have to look to other popular plays such as Steel Magnolias and August: Osage County, which were written after Crimes of the Heart, to see that the combination of humor, heart, and flawed Southern families can make for an entertaining dramedy.

Cody Dull's direction focuses more on the serious side of the plot and less on the comic moments, which is a good thing. The 2008 Off-Broadway revival I saw veered a little too much toward the wacky comic nature of the plot and characters, which hurt the more heartfelt moments of the play. Dull stages the action very well on Leroy Timblin's realistic kitchen set, though I do wish all of the walls were finished, as the slanted boards on the back walls appear to be unfinished or in a state of being demolished. Dull's costumes are character and period specific.

The cast is wonderful. Amber Ryan, Kathryn Katsikis, and Sara Castillo are the McGrath sisters and each actor does a great job creating a realistic, multi-dimensional character, while also forming a believable trio of eccentric siblings. As Lenny, Ryan beautifully portrays the sad spinster sister who is constantly cleaning up, literally and figuratively, her sisters' messes. Katsikis is flirty, fun and fiery as Meg, and Castillo is pitch perfect as Babe, who starts to question if she has the same assumed mental illness that her mother had. Watching Ryan, all alone, lighting and relighting Lenny's birthday candle, or seeing Castillo's Babe having a frenzied meltdown but also an emotional breakthrough and trying to make sense of her past mistakes, provides a poignancy to the pain and suffering of their characters. From Dull's astute direction and the polished acting skills of the three women, we see how all three characters begin to take control of their lives.

In the supporting cast, Cindy Covington is hilarious as the sisters' loud, busybody cousin Chick. As Doc, the man who has a romantic and somewhat unfortunate past with Meg, Eric Banks is appropriately good-natured and calm, and Ben Holmquist is charming as the eager young lawyer who comes to help Babe and who may have ulterior motives in doing so.

Crimes of the Heart at Stage Left Productions is a fun, sordid slice of Southern life, but also a well-directed and smartly acted production with a big heart.

Crimes of the Heart runs through October 31, 2021, at Stage Left Productions, 11340 West Bell Road, Suite 105, Surprise AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.stageleftaz.com or by calling 623-285-6321.

Director/Prop/Lighting/Costume Designer: Cody Dull
Set Design: Leroy Timblin
Hair and Make Up Design: Lisa Kurvink

Cast (in order of appearance):
Lenny: Amber Ryan
Chick: Cindy Covington
Doc: Eric Banks
Meg: Kathryn Katsikis
Babe: Sara Castillo
Barnette: Ben Holmquist


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